So, the Titanic sank 100 years ago, and it feels like that long ago since I made my only Titanic graphic! So much has changed in how we do them.
I was working for the wire service United Press International in 1985 when they discovered the wreck of the Titanic. Prior to the 80s, UPI was pretty big with thousands of media subscribers and nearly 100 news bureaus around the world. Back then, UPI was to the Associated Press what Newsweek was to Time and Avis to Hertz: a pain in their bigger competitor’s arse. Things began to go badly in the 80s when newsprint costs skyrocketed and newspapers had to cut back one of their costly news agencies (most took both) and by 1985 UPI had already declared bankruptcy once. Before I left in 1986 I had worked under four Presidents and three owners.
My job was to create news graphics for these subscribers as fast as was humanly possible. If you think news magazines have it rough with their weekly deadlines or newspapers with their daily deadlines, think again. We had deadlines every minute. At any given moment some news organization was on deadline somewhere in the world, and they were constantly calling my department to find out if a graphic would be ready before they had to put their publication to bed. Being in New York, we shot for East coast deadlines first and when we missed those, we we went West with the sun: Central, then Mountain and if we were really late we hoped to make Pacific (Hawaii anyone?).
Breaking news graphics were always fun to tackle, particularly back then. You had to really work for your content. Information and visual references were often scarce and there was no internet to go running to. If phone calls and faxes (we got one of the company’s first, in 1980) weren’t doing the trick for you, you took off for book stores, libraries, government agencies…EVERYTHING, in a cab!
So, after telling you all this, I don’t recall how I got my reference for my Titanic graphic, but I do know that it was done in a matter of hours, early enough to make EASTERN deadlines! This was all done with non-repro blue pencils and rulers for drawing its single-point perspective (here’s my video tutorial on perspective, which is approaching 1,000000 views!), Rapidograph pens, ruling tapes and and an Apple Lisa computer hooked up to a typesetter. The final ‘mechanical’ was then shot under a stat camera, captioned (typed with a manual typewriter onto sticky paper, which was then peeled and stuck onto the print) and transmitted to subscribers using the Unifax II photo system. Great for photos but just awful for graphics. They came out a bit blurry on the other side, so graphics had to have large type and be almost all black and white, with very little pattern tints on them. Still, we did all right.
In 1999 I was invited to a meeting in Newsweek managing editor, Jon Meacham’s, office to discuss a double gatefold (two pages that unfold to open into a four-page spread) to kick off the primaries for the following week’s election issue. A few others were there, including political reporter Jonathan Alter, National News Editor Tom Watson and AME for Design, Lynn Staley. These monster information graphics were printed on Friday night, a day before the rest of the magazine went to bed, to prevent a bottleneck at the presses.
SWIMMING IN CONTENT
I was the Director of Information Graphics and my dept. would be producing it over the course of four days. As we brainstormed ideas for content, I doodled in the margins of my notebook (below) as everyone tossed out their wish lists for content. The final list:
- explain for each party’s challenges and a key issue that the Republican and Democratic candidates would need to address in each state (that’s 100 text blocks!)
- profile the frontrunners on each side
- explain Super Tuesday and Southern Tuesday
- what are key states to win and why
- include a glossary to define terms like ‘superdelegate’
- show a timeline of when each state is holding it’s primary or caucus
- show the number of delegates in each state and break down how many were pledged to a candidate or were superdelegates
- profile the Republican and Democratic conventions: how many delegates would be needed to win the nomination, where are they being held, when, etc.
- oh wait! Don’t forget the Reform party. Explain their convention and candidates
With such a hodgepodge of elements, I needed a framework that would, in effect, take the reader by the hand and lead them though it all. For the first time in my career, I used the a game board approach, something I had always avoided and felt was a cliché.
So sue me.
Lynn Staley brought in the great caricature artist (and terrific guy) John Kascht, from Washington, D.C., to do the illustrations. We put him up at the uber-fancy Essex House hotel on New York’s Central Park West a few blocks away (I stayed there hundreds of glorious nights during my decade at Newsweek when deadlines prevented me from getting home to Connecticut) and, though we had an office set aside for him to use at Newsweek, he preferred to work from his hotel room (it DOES have sweeping views of Central Park… and room service!). As usual, he did a wonderful job, particularly on such a tight deadline.
SO, ABOUT THIS CRYING THING
Managing Editor Meacham had stopped by my office on Friday when the graphic was due to make sure that it would be at the printer by midnight. Being late was not an option. At 11 p.m. the graphic was done and I was relaxed and thinking about heading home.
The gatefold was moving along the proofing and copy-desk pipeline as I tweaked minor details in QuarkXpress and Adobe Illustrator, like fine-tuning the rotation of the 100 text blocks and gently nudging the .5 line of the timeline and the circular icons that paralleled the game board.
I GET BAD NEWS
Just then, one of our graphics researchers came into my office and said,
“Karl, it seems they’ve updated the Democratic timeline and some of the states have switched around.”
I thought, in a panic, that even if only one state was out of place it would mean that half the graphic would need a complete makeover! The state would have to wedge it in between two other states and slide all of the others around the game board to make room. Icons would have to move, all the text blocks would have to be carefully rotated into precise position and the timeline would have to be completely re-done. My blood drained.
“How many states?” I asked.
“WHAT? How could we not know this?”
It was true. My fight or flight response immediately kicked in and my senses sharped, anticipating the brain challenge ahead. I flew to the door and called in our intern, Stephen Totilo, who was about as intelligent as a human being gets, and sat him next to me, asking him to help me solve this puzzle and tell me where each state was supposed to be. He was brilliant.
“Move Alabama up here…slide Montana down here…insert California here….”
At midnight, Meacham came in and asked if we were done with the gatefold. I told him. Without expression, he said,
“Just come find me when it’s done.”
My boss, Lynn Staley, came in awhile later with a look of unbridled concern on her face.
THEN, I GET WORSE NEWS
Two hours later, at about 1:30 a.m., an hour and a half past deadline, we were still working on it when the researcher came in and said,
“Uh, Karl, it looks like we have the SAME ISSUE for the Republican side.”
I stared at the researcher as resignation washed over me and my body went limp. Fire me now. No, forget it, I’ll just quit my job. Being late meant that there would be a bottleneck which would delay the printing of Newsweek and, since the same trucks around the country delivered Time and a jillion other magazines, it would delay their delivery, too, as drivers waited around earning overtime.
All because of me.
But this graphic wasn’t going to get done by itself, so Stephen and I kept slugging away at this train wreck, struggling to re-d0 in hours what had initially taken four days to do. My stress level was at an all-time high. As the hours passed, the world around me vanished, except for the God-like voice of Stephen the Intern and the minutia of the graphic on my monitor. There could not be a single error on this spread. My body was stiff as I mechanically obeyed the orders that were barking in my ear.
At about 3:30 a.m. Lynn burst into my office with the suddenness of Kramer entering Seinfeld’s apartment.
“What’s happening here??”
And that’s when it happened. As I spun my chair around to face her I said, choked up by my own words and tears firing at her with the explosive power of SCUD missiles,
“This thing is all FUCKED UP!”
And I swung around right back to work. Realizing the best action was no action, Lynn returned to her office. At 5 a.m., with briefcase in hand and Humphrey Bogart raincoat tied at the waist, Meacham popped his head in the door and said,
“I”ll be in my apartment waiting. Send it over when your finished.”
Meacham read everything that went in the magazine, of course. Several of my staff were poring over parts of the graphic as we finished them, checking carefully for errors. We were used to all-nighters.
We sent the finished graphic over to Meacham at 7 a.m. My phone rang shortly after.
“It’s fine. Nice job.”
What a guy.
VIDEO WITH ME TALKING ABOUT THE GRAPHIC, LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED
Here is a short Newsweek election promo video that shows me talking about the gatefold (at the 3:00 mark).
During the 30 years I’ve been doing information graphics, I’ve made some good ones and some bad, and I mean really bad ones. I’ve been giving some thought to the process and here’s what I’ve come up with. What do you think?
Ten years ago, shortly after the attacks on 9-11, the U.S. military was poised to go into Afghanistan. Newsweek, where I worked as Graphics Director, decided to do a story on new, cutting-edge technologies the Department of Defense had developed to kill human beings and destroy their war machines and we would produce a graphic to accompany it. At a minimum, the graphic might have been a simple list, but we were asked to fill up an entire spread (two pages). Initially, I started doing a fairly simple two-page, gridded layout consisting of boxed in images provided by the Department of Defense with captions under them, something I could easily do in a day, so our five-day week was mapping out to seem pretty easy!
But Newsweek 3D artist Kevin Hand would have none of that. Looking over my shoulder as I worked, he said, “Karl, we have to put all this stuff on a battlefield!” and I knew he was right. A top editor had recently begun asking more and more about graphics, “Karl, you’re going give us video games this time, right?” meaning three-dimensional, you-are-there realism, a look he strongly felt the readers wanted and something Time magazine was doing regularly.
Below are a series of images that illustrate the sequence of how this complex graphic came together in a matter of days:
Armed with a list that our department’s national and international news reporter, Karen Yourish, had provided (content first, always) I sketched out Kevin’s battlefield using Google images I had pulled up on my screen for reference and leaving space to add text blocks.
All of the weapons and the battle scene itself would have to be created in 3D and Adobe Photoshop. But humans generally look like stiff mannequins when generated on computers, so I decided to photograph a real person in the photo studio based on my drawing. We purchased a military uniform from an Army surplus store and rented an M-16, which someone, I don’t recall who, carried from downtown to midtown Manhattan in a duffle bag on the subway. It’s barrel had been clogged with cement, but still, just image what it might be like carrying that thing hoping no one discovered it!
I decided it would be fun to wear the uniform around Newsweek while showing AME for Design, Lynn Staley, the graphic. Who knew whether she liked it. I don’t think she even notice the drawing for some reason
Ditto Jon Meacham, the Managing Editor, and National News Editor, Tom Watson, who seemed to appreciate the laugh. With tight deadlines and stress, it’s important to keep the serious level down a bit once in awhile.
My friend Peter O’Brien showed up for a lunch date, which I had forgotten about, so I talked him into wearing the uniform for the shoot in Newsweek’s photo studio.
I posed Peter as close to the positions in my sketches as possible. The shoot went quickly because the digital camera was connected directly to a Mac which showed the image on its monitor almost instantly. In the old days of photo shoots, negatives had to be developed and contact sheets made before you saw what you got. Here, I’d tell Peter, “Turn just a little bit to your right.” Shoot. “A little more…”
This image shows the progression from sketch, to studio pose with a mail tube to the final image. Kevin Hand drew the bazooka in a 3D drawing program called Lightwave, imported it and the photo of Peter into Photoshop, cut out the mail tube and then slide in the bazooka.
While I was in the photo studio Kevin Hand started drawing the jet plane and other 3D weaponry. Love the Apple monitor!
Tonia Cowan drew all the bombs as well as other elements. Drawing in 3D is extremely time consuming.
One of Tonia’s bombs, the JDAM, which Wikipedia describes: “The JDAM is not a stand alone weapon, rather it is a “bolt-on” guidance package that converts unguided gravity bombs into Precision-Guided Munitions, or PGMs.”
After the photo shoot I scanned my drawing and popped it into Quark Xpress (like InDesign) and began setting in text blocks and popping in bombs, planes and other elements as Kevin and Tonia finished them. While waiting, I spent hours carefully silhouetting the photos of Peter (cutting him out of the background) in Photoshop and popping him into the Quark layout to make sure they would work.
As soon as I was satisfied with the text placement I passed the layout over to Karen Yourish who began writing the graphic. Karen made us all sound really smart
While all this was all going on, artist Stanford Kay was using Adobe Illustrator to draw how each bomb worked based on research Karen had provided.
Once I had all of the elements placed properly in the rough Quark layout Kevin, an amazing artist, took a screenshot of it, pulled it into Photoshop and used it as a template to build the final image. He built the landscape (grasses, dirt, etc.) from pieces of images he found on the web.
Tonia getting in the spirit. Such a talented department. I was lucky to work with them.
The final Photoshop image.
The final image with text and Stan’s Illustrator bomb drawings. The editors were very pleased with this, but it trivializes war, making it look fun, like a video game. In the old days before computers could do this sort of thing, I would have just watercolored and inked my original drawing and added labels, which would have been less sensational. Still, I love how this looks.
—Karl Gude, 2012